Before the rain, Team USA was thundering

Hope Solo recorded her 99th career shutout in a 2-0 win over Japan on June 5, 2016, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. (David Dermer/AP)

Hope Solo recorded her 99th career shutout on June 5, 2016. Or maybe not. (David Dermer/AP)

In a game cut short by severe storms in Cleveland, the U.S. women defeated Japan 2-0 on Sunday (July 5).

Maybe.

U.S. Soccer says it’s  “awaiting final word from FIFA as to whether the match and all the statistics will count as official.”

(I have a suggestion: Figure out who at FIFA is in charge of bribery these days — I don’t think it’s still this guy — and slip him a few bucks. It worked for Qatar.)

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By all rights, the win should count. The game was suspended in the 76th minute. No one who watched can believe that Japan would have turned things around if given an additional 14 minutes to try.

The Americans were in control from the opening minutes. That was unlike Thursday night, when the two sides played to a 3-3 draw in Denver. In that game, Japan stunned the world champions by scoring twice in the first 22 minutes, then stunned them again by equalizing in stoppage time, just moments after a Lindsey Horan goal at the end of regulation gave Team USA a 3-2 lead — and, everyone thought, a thrilling, come-from-behind victory.

In Thursday’s game, the Japanese applied high defensive  pressure early —  and effectively — to stall the U.S. attack.  On offense, they nimbly passed and darted through crevices in the usually impenetrable U.S. backline.

And they did something that no one else has done since last summer’s World Cup: They got multiple shots past Hope Solo.

One of Japan's three goals against Hope Solo on June 2, 2016. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

One of Japan’s three goals against Hope Solo on June 2, 2016. (Jack Dempsey/AP)

It was almost as if someone forgot to tell the visitors — young, inexperienced, and led by a rookie coach — that they were supposed to fear the American goddesses of world soccer.

Sunday, however, was a different story.  At both ends of the field — and, for that matter, in midfield — the United States dictated the flow of play. (It was almost as if coach Jill Ellis had reminded her team since Thursday that they really are soccer goddesses.)

Julie Johnston after scoring the first of two U.S. goals against Japan, June 5, 2016. (David Dermer/AP)

Julie Johnston after scoring the first of two U.S. goals against Japan, June 5, 2016. (David Dermer/AP)

On offense, the Americans pushed forward relentlessly, and with relative ease. They put nine of 11 shots on frame.

If Asako Takakura, the Japanese coach, had any thoughts about high-pressuring again, she quickly forgot them. Her defenders spent the afternoon on their heels, backpedaling, chasing.

On defense, the United States was its dominating self again. Japan managed just three shots. Two were on goal, and Solo easily handled both.

When the game began at noon, it was sunny and warm in Cleveland. By late in the first half, temperatures had pushed into the 80s. The humidity wasn’t far behind.

The ESPN2 broadcast team of Glenn Davis and Kate Markgraf, noting the slower tempo of the game, pace of the game was slowing, and they wondered whether the heat was getting to the players. (If so, they said, the Americans better learn to adapt before heading to muggy Brazil for the Olympics in August.)

It was late in the second half when a sudden, powerful storm blew in, bringing pounding rains and, worse, flashes of lightning. As fans sought cover in the concourses of FirstEnergy Stadium, the game officials pulled both teams off the pitch.

At first, they hoped to wait out the rain and resume play. But after an hour, with no letup in sight and more foul weather rolling in, the game was called.

It was Solo’s 99th career shutout.

That is, if it counts.

 

 

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